'Housewife' turned Skinnygirl remains uniquely Bethenny. / Jack Guy/Warner Bros.
For Bethenny Frankel, multitasking is a way of life. Followers of her two Bravo reality series, The Real Housewives of New York and Bethenny Ever After, have seen her take on life’s biggest challenges, usually at the same time and always with her singular, edgy style. At one point, viewers watched a newlywed Frankel juggle first-time motherhood, a burgeoning business and a role in yet another reality show, Skating With the Stars. Ever the overachiever, she made it all the way to the end of the competition and was the first runner-up.
But on this beautiful Los Angeles day, sitting on the sun-dappled patio at the Chateau Marmont hotel in L.A., Frankel is the picture of serenity, thrilled to be focused on just one project: the new talk show she’s co-producing with Ellen DeGeneres. “This is it,” she says calmly. “This is it, what I believe I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not nervous, oddly.”
Frankel has just two rules for Bethenny, which is airing on six Fox stations for a summer test run: Be honest and have fun. “It’s been a little hard for people to understand how this mouth is going to be in daytime, because I’m beyond inappropriate,” she says, alluding to her colorful vocabulary and opinions.
To Frankel’s surprise, “Fox has said: ‘Don’t filter her. Let her run,’” she says. “It’s the ‘let’s talk about it’ show, about the things that women talk to other women about when they’re out having cocktails.”
The studio audience is key to the show.
“My fans know me, but they’ve been watching me in a fishbowl, and we couldn’t talk about what I was going through in my life and my marriage,” Frankel says. Until now, “the woman in the audience couldn’t stand up and say, ‘I’ve gone through that, too.’”
Her guests are chosen for the connection they have with Frankel and her audience, not just star power. “Like, Madonna is not coming on,” Frankel jokes with her trademark deadpan expression. “Of course, if Madonna wants to come on, I would have her on the show. But she’s not coming on.”
At 41, Frankel is a one-woman business empire. There is Skinnygirl-branded shape wear, skin care and nutritional products and, of course, the Skinnygirl drinks that put her on the cover of Forbes magazine, when she sold the cocktail line to Beam. She’s also a best-selling author and a first-time novelist with Skinnydipping, out in May.
The book, perfectly timed for summer beach reading, tells the story of a heroine whose adventures echo Frankel’s real life. It’s dishy, and fans will have a good time reading between the lines, she says. “The whole book is a puzzle, and every word means something.” The book’s dedication, to the power of imagination, speaks to the way she has used her well-documented struggles with family, love and work to fashion the life of her dreams. Asked about the title, she says it’s a nod to her Skinnygirl brand but also a metaphor for the way she approaches new challenges — like writing fiction.
“A lot of what I do is dive in,” Frankel explains. “And a lot of what I do involves guts and a shiver. And then you feel great after that.”
For all her bravado, it’s Frankel’s vulnerability and warmth that seem to resonate with fans. One admirer recalls: “I used to watch her on The Real Housewives in her tiny apartment, storing her clothes under the bed, worrying about money and meeting a nice guy. I was rooting for her and she made it, which makes me feel like I can do it, too.”
“I don’t know that I love being famous,” Frankel reflects. “I thought that I would. I like knowing people and I like being trusted. I like hearing that I’ve inspired people or changed their lives.”
In person, she is direct and funny, but also earnest and grateful. “I feel so lucky, and I appreciate the women who got me here,” she says. “I want to have fun, I want to learn something, and I want it to be great for everyone."
“Put it this way,” Frankel instructs as we wrap up our conversation so she can get back to the studio: “The queen of too much information is coming to daytime.”